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Is Direct to Consumer Telehealth Cutting into Medical Practice Market Share?

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | January 10, 2020 |
Michael Greiwe, MD

 

Whether your practice is independent or hospital-owned, you are likely seeing some market share encroachment by corporate telemedicine firms. These entrepreneurial companies hire doctors to provide direct-to-consumer care, often offering 24/7 consultations without the overhead of brick and mortar. How are these companies potentially impacting the patient load of traditional medical practices? What consumer trends have fostered the rise of these new companies? How can medical practices compete against the convenience of direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies?

Market Share and Your Medical Practice

First, let’s offer some perspectives about market share in the healthcare industry. A decade ago, we worried less about attracting and retaining patients. Just opening a practice or building a new hospital wing would bring in patients. While every other business sector worried about attracting customers, healthcare executives would build it and the patients would come.

Just 15-years ago it was unusual to even have a marketing executive in a hospital and we talked more about sepsis than we did market share. The data we collected, especially in the medical practice, was still on paper. Minute clinics and other retail sites weren’t even on our radar. Patients established relationships with the family practice doctor as the primary conduit to care.

The Hitech Act of 2009 changed everything, of course, in response to the growth of digital technology. As the Internet stabilized and handheld digital devices became prevalent, consumers were enabled with more information quicker than at any time in history.

Today, we increasingly make use of digital data to improve our patient encounters and to capture more customers. We are aware of the increasing consumerization of our patients and the commoditization of healthcare. Our patients want access—and they are willing to switch providers to get it.

Today, convenience is the driving factor behind choosing a clinical provider, above even the quality of care. That’s exactly why quick-service models such as minute clinics, self-service scheduling portals, and now, telemedicine, are increasing in popularity.

Interestingly, telemedicine was established in the 50s as a viable way to provide care to patients. What changed is the sheer volume of organizations using these tools; more doctors than ever before are using the virtual visit to serve patients.

All of these trends have contributed to the rise in stand-alone consumer-based telemedicine firms not associated with a health system or other clinical provider. These entrepreneurial companies are the new digital disrupters in healthcare today—and they are aiming at your market share.

Is Direct to Consumer Telehealth Cutting into Medical Practice Market Share?


Telemedicine Vendor Encroachment on Medical Practice Patients

“The rise of DTC telehealth … is not an invasive species, but rather the result of shortcomings in the existing way that traditional healthcare is provided, and new expectations of the upcoming patient population.”

Foley & Lardner, LLP

 

Entrepreneurship is about filling a void in service or filling a market niche that society may not even know existed. That is essentially what occurred with on-demand direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies, who eliminated brick and mortar, integrating service delivery of scheduling, diagnosis, and treatment. The influx of these disruptive companies got the attention of investors, patients, and healthcare leadership, the latter expressing concerns about the quality of care associated with these providers.

While telemedicine, on the one hand, is an important service offering that improves access to care, direct-to-consumer telehealth offerings “outside the medical home can lead to fragmentation and lower quality of care,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. While this may be the case, we know that consumers are increasingly frustrated with long wait times associated with care delivery.

It is these trends driving patients to select the convenience of direct-to-consumer telemedicine, as well as minute clinics or other doc-in-a-box solutions outside the medical home. Other factors influencing patient migration to direct-to-consumer telemedicine include:

  • Increasing acceptance of telehealth by payers, consumers, and healthcare providers.
  • High deductible health plans that force many patients to look for lower-cost care alternatives.
  • Demand for better customer service and on-demand treatment.
  • Millennials increasingly do not have a primary care physician.

Today, technology eliminates the middleman and consumers expect door delivery, faster service, and convenience as the benchmarks of service quality. If your service lacks these attributes, no matter your industry, you may end up with a poor rating on social media and a decline in customers.

What is the practical effect of these trends on the caseload and bottom line of a traditional brick and mortar healthcare provider? An article in mHealth Intelligence suggests that healthcare providers initiating a telemedicine offering should expect, “Anywhere between 5 percent and 30 percent of their patient population to move to digital health at the onset.”

This is a startling statistic that may extrapolate to market share loss from the encroachment of d-to-c telemedicine companies.

How should medical practices respond to these market changes and the corresponding rise in direct-to-consumer services?

The answer, of course, lies in the adage, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Recapturing Market Share with Telemedicine

There is an unmet need in primary care that the new wave of direct-to-consumer companies meets. That’s why predictions show the telehealth services industry reaching $2.6 billion in the US this year. More than half of US hospitals now have established telemedicine programs and the remainder says it’s on their list of strategic initiatives.

Telehealth can help organizations respond to consumer desires for convenience and accessibility. Using the virtual visit is a way to bring back the house call, and it’s clear now that if healthcare providers aren’t willing to offer these services there is a direct-to-consumer telehealth platform poised to give patients what they ask for in convenience, cost, and access.

But healthcare providers can recapture the market share they’ve potentially lost to d-to-c telemedicine providers. There are a host of options available today to improve care delivery with online tools. One of the options available is OrthoLive, a custom-built stand-alone telehealth tool designed specifically for orthopedic providers. Our platform is affordable and can be branded to fit your practice, offering a seamless way for even the smallest orthopedic provider to make use of the Internet to provide the convenient care your customers demand. Contact us today to see a demo of this service and recapture your market share with telemedicine.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", 2020 healthcare, Direct-to-consumer, 2020 trends

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